New York, the United Nations General Assembly—September 25, 2015. All 193 countries agree to work together to define 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
The list of universal goals—aiming to eradicate poverty, fight inequalities, combat injustices and tackle climate change—is the result of three years of negotiations between states, and includes an aspiring agenda: the SDGs aim to reach specific targets to make the world a better place by 2030.
These goals do not just apply to governments: the private sector is also asked to support them. In France, BNP Paribas has become one of the first companies to include a clear reference to the SDGs in its CSR strategy.
Aiming to drive progress
Defined for the period from 2000-2015, the ‘Millennium Development Goals’ helped to achieve decisive results in terms of reducing poverty and expanding access to care. Between 1990 and 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty fell by more than half, while 6.2 million malaria deaths were averted over the same period. However, many inequalities persist despite these advances. For that reason, the UN has laid out 17 SDGs to build on the ‘Eight Millennium Development Goals’ and continues to make substantial progress.
Even more ambitious—the goals span a global scale, covering both the industrialized countries of the Global North and the developing countries of the Global South. They address every development challenge, without exception, by taking action on environmental, social and economic fronts.
The goals aim to end poverty, protect the environment, restore equality and peace. Ultimately, their aim is to prepare a better future for the 8.5 billion people who will occupy the planet in 2030. Even if some of the goals are not attained, adopting this common guideline sends a strong message and paves the way to success. Moreover, clearly defined indicators will make it possible to track all the progress made in these areas.
SDGs in figures :
Each SDG is composed of numerous ‘targets,’ which represent 169 sub-goals that compose the 2030 agenda and cover all 17 major goals. The targets revolve around five critical fields of action represented by the five “Ps”: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership.
Adopting the SDGs
The 2030 Agenda is not prescriptive—the signing countries can decide which SDGs they will prioritize. They can even set aside any targets that may clash with their culture.
This flexibility in applying the SDGs is what secured their general approval, while it also invites each country to take action according to its own means and priorities. But the 2030 Agenda does not apply to governments alone. Unlike purely diplomatic or exclusively political actions, the SDGs:
- Emphasize the importance of partnerships between governments and the private sector,
- Expand funding (compared to the millennium goals) to new institutions and resources, such as foundations and philanthropic organizations.
When launching the SDGs, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon entreated private businesses to help governments implement these goals. This means companies can adapt the goals and integrate them into their strategies!
SDGs and business
The SDGs translate the concept of sustainable development into a list of shared, precise and measurable goals. Each company can integrate the targets (sub-goals) into its strategy and adapt the goals with ease—by implementing an action plan, methodology or indicators.
The SDGs also provide companies with a powerful tool for raising awareness. In this way, they can explore—and engage their employees—in fields that fall outside of their core business. Conversely, other companies can use the SDGs to connect specific actions with larger goals and make their efforts more meaningful within a global context. Each company can play a role in achieving the SDGs through its investment choices, strategy, etc.